Gold/Silver

Gold just broke the previous intraday record and touched $1,043 per ounce. It’s currently trading around $1,038.

 gold-hits-record-high

This spike may have been caused by a news report that appeared in the Independent today. It states that the Arab States in the Gulf have made secret plans with China, Russia, Brazil and France to stop using the US dollar for oil trading. While this isn’t immediate and it calls for a transition to occur by 2018, it seems to have set the stage for a pretty bad precedent – that gold will jump on these sort of rumors! Lets see if we get any official confirmation of this “news”.

So is this the beginning of the end for the US Dollar? I hope not, but I’m buying some silver and maybe some more gold, just to be safe!

According to Robert Zoellick, World Bank President  and former Goldman Sachs head and US Secretary of State, you shouldn’t take the US Dollar’s reserve currency status for granted. Swelling government deficits and the strength of emerging countries is weakening the demand for the dollar. Time to head for the exits?

So how should you diversify out of the dollar?

According to Zoellick, the Euro and the Chinese Yuan are good alternatives (source: BusinessWeek). But a lot of people think that investing in a basket of currencies is a better approach. In the short-term, currency volatility is unpredictable since exchange rates are more likely to be impacted by government policy than fundamentals. In the long term, all fiat currencies devalue and buying gold and silver is probably a better bet. But if you really want to park your savings in cash, consider a currency that has stronger fundamentals the the US dollar, the British pound and euro.

Until 2000, the Swiss Central Bank had a legal requirement to hold 40% of its reserves in gold. This requirement has been relaxed to around 20%, but in terms of volatility the Swiss franc is still one of the most stable currencies. You can purchase the Swiss franc via the Currencyshares ETF (FXF) quite easily.

The Canadian dollar (FXC) and the Australian dollar (FXA) are two more strong currencies. The governments are both fiscally conservative and have, until recently, been running surpluses instead of multi-trillion dollar deficits. They’re also commodity based economies, rich in natural resources with strong ties to the rest of the world. In a situation of high inflation, commodity-based currencies should hold up better than the US dollar.

With China being Jim Rogers’ favorite place, the Chinese yuan (or remnimbi) is a another alternative. As their internal economy grows, maintaining a stronger currency will make imports of raw materials cheaper. Of course, this is probably several years in to the future but with millions of Chinese rising out of poverty, its a likely scenario. Also, China has publicly said that they’re looking to diversify out of the dollar and are considering buying gold as one option. You can invest in Chinese yuan through Everbank.

Disclosures: I own gold, silver, Australian CurrencyShares ETF (FXA),  and a basket of currencies CD with Everbank.

According to a quote in the Telegraph, HSBC has issued a new report stating that the Federal Reserve’s ultra-loose monetary policy is forcing China and other emerging countries to create a new global currency “order”. According to David Bloom, HSBC’s currency chief, the dollar looks like the sterling did after World War I.

For those a little dusty on their history, the British pound sterling (so called because it’s value was backed by sterling silver) was the world reserve currency until the 1930’s. After that, the sun set on the British Empire and the sterling was replaced by the US dollar. Now it seems the dollars time in the sun has come to end as well. The Telegraph article states:

Crucially, China and rising Asia have reached the point where they can no longer keep holding down their currencies to boost exports because this is causing mayhem to their own economies, stoking asset bubbles. Asia’s “mercantilist mindset” of recent decades is about to be broken by the spectre of an inflation spiral.

A monetary policy of near zero rates – further juiced by quantitative easing – is completely incompatible with circumstances in most of Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa. Divorce is inevitable. The US is expected to hold rates near zero through 2010 to tackle its own crisis.

Mr Bloom said regional currencies would emerge as the anchor for their smaller trading partners, with China, Brazil, or South Africa substituting the role of the US. Australia is already linking its fortunes to China through commodity ties.

This is nothing new, but it is the first time a major bank has openly stated this. But the important question hasn’t been answered.

What does it mean to the average American?

In order to obtain the necessary financing to fund the multi-trillion dollar stimulus/bailout package the government needs to sell bonds. Traditionally, the Chinese and other foreign governments have used their excess reserves of US dollars to purchase these bonds. If we switch to some other currency (or mixture of different currencies), the amount of US dollars held by foreign governments will decrease and the demand for US treasuries that yield next to nothing will decrease substantially. In order to entice the buying of these treasuries, the interest rates will have to jump substantially higher. And when this happens, the cost of the US government’s debt will start to rise. As will the cost of borrowing for US citizens and businesses. The government already pays nearly a billion dollars a day in interest payments (hat tip: Silver Bars Direct: Why $1,000 gold is now significant). If this cost were to double, and we add in the additional $9 trillion in debt the white house has admitted it is likely to borrow, we’re looking at over a trillion dollars a year in debt payments.

In order to repay this interest (and maybe the original principle too), do you think the government is likely to raise taxes or just print more money? If it prints more more, its just fueling the debt spiral which will lead to Zimbabwe-type hyper-inflation.

So what should you do?

Invest in hard assets that have been proven to keep their buying power during inflationary times.  Along with gold and silver bullion, buy some cheap land to either farm, hunt or bury your precious metals! And if you’re one of those people who think buying gold and silver is useless then hold on to your dollars and watch them become even more worthless. Since 1900, when the dollar coin actually contained silver, the dollar’s purchasing power has dropped to only4 cents. This trend is only like to get worse.

Purchasing-Power-of-the-US-Dollar-1900-2005

Disclosure: I own gold & silver bullion, numismatic coins and mining stocks.

Gold Dinar Coin

If you’ve been reading the popular press for the past 6 months, there’s been a slew of articles talking about deflation. I’ve been somewhat skeptical of the long term probability of deflation and have been investing in gold and commodities in anticipation of inflation. Looks like I was a little early to the game (which, on Wall Street is just the same as being wrong!).

Now however, it looks like we are warming up the printing presses and gold has hit $1,000 twice in a week in anticipation of future inflation. Legendary hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made $2.5 Billion last year from his trades, has been betting heavily on gold and his fund has nearly 50% of its assets in gold or gold-related investments like gold mining stocks and ETFs. The gold ETF, GLD reportedly makes up 30% of his fund! He has also taken a large 12% stake in AngloGold Ashanti (ANGJ.J) making him the largest shareholder. According to Reuters, this is not a bet on the company being acquired but rather a bet on inflationary pressures pushing up the price of gold. As opposed to the popular theory of rising prices being a cause of inflation, I like to consider it as an effect of inflation, which is caused by printing money, a side-effect of fiat currency. If you’re unaware about the effects of inflation and how it can ravage the economic (and social) structure of a society, I strongly recommend watching the excellent videos on hyper-inflation.

Another fund which has done well with the gold mining ETF is David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital, which picked it up at the lowest point of last year and which has more than doubled its investment so far.  They both join China in being bullish on gold. Between Paulson’s bullion dollar gold ETF purchase and China’s multi-billion gold bullion purchase, it’s no wonder gold prices have been trending upwards.

[St Gaudens Double Eagle 1 Oz Gold Coin]

St Gaudens Double Eagle 1 Oz Gold Coin

Today Gold hit an intraday price of $1005/ounce. While not a record, it’s definitely a historical moment, with this event occurring for only the sixth time in history.

We can only speculate as to why the run up to a $1000 so quick but some of the likely reasons are:

  • The continued monetization of US debt and resulting devaluation of the dollar
  • The ability for 1/6th of the world’s population (the Chinese) to now buy gold
  • The Indian Wedding season is about to begin soon and this is when Indian’s start buying gold jewelery
  • The Chinese government has been buying gold on the sly. Well maybe not so secretly. They even encouraging their citizens to buy silver and gold
  • The Chinese government just agreed to buy $50 Billion of IMF Bonds denominated in SDR (Special Drawing Rights), a mixture of various currencies, which might be a signal that the US Dollar is losing its status as the world’s reserve currency

The only question is whether this rally can last. In the long term, the answer seems obvious, but the short term is anyone’s guess. However, I think $1000 gold is here to stay.

In the last post we saw that China was slowly diversifying away from it’s usual investments in US Treasury Bonds and investing in hard assets, natural resources and maybe other currencies.

There probably a very good reason why the world’s second largest holder of US Dollars is weaning itself away from bonds issued by the world’s largest debtor nation.  If you believe the Chinese know what they are doing, it might make sense to imitate their investment strategy.

While you don’t need to buy $80 Billion worth of gold, you might do well buying gold equal to at least 5% of your net worth. Gold is not an investment in itself but a historic store of value. Regardless what anyone tells you, the US Dollar is not a store of value. During times when governments print money hand-over-fist, gold typically does well. In fact, over the past 10 years, gold has appreciated against every single currency.

You can either buy the physical gold, gold ETF(GLD) & gold mining stock ETF (GDX), gold certificates or a custodial account. You can also buy silver and silver ETFs in a similar fashion. There was a recent Chinese news report recommending Chinese investors buy silver since its a better value than gold!

You can also exchange your US dollars directly for foreign currencies. Everbank currently has a Marketsafe BRIC CD, which invests in a basket of Brazilian Real, Russian Ruble, Indian Rupee and Chinese Remnimbi.  This CD doesn’t pay any interest but the principle is protected against loss! But if you’d rather take a risk and earn some interest, Everbank has a slew of CD products in several European and Asian currencies.

Another option are the CurrencyShare ETFs for Australian Dollars(FXA), British Pounds(FXB), Swiss Francs(FXF), Japanese Yen(FXY) and Euros(FXE).  Another ETF worth considering is UDN, an inverse US Dollar ETF, which is a basket of the above mentioned currencies. (However, inverse ETFs may not accurately follow the downward movement so you’re cautioned to do some research).

I do not recommend forex-trading as a means of hedging yourself against Dollar devaluation. Forex trading is a highly leveraged, zero-sum speculation. In a zero-sum game, a participant can only win at the expense of another participant. In fact, it may be considerably less than zero-sum becauase your brokerage can run your stops (which it can see) and effectively trade against you.

If you are thinking of investing in currencies, definitely check out Everbank’s free newsletter, the Daily Pfenning. It provides a very informative (and entertaining) look at global economics and investing. Actually, you should subscribe if you do any sort of investing! Everbank also has a low-cost custodial account for gold and from time to time (whenever the price of gold drops dramatically) they offer a MarketSafe (which means principle-protected) Gold CD. Sign up for the newsletter and they’ll inform you whenver they come out with new products.

If you have a penchant for natural resources, you should look into Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) like Tortoise Energy (TYY) or Kinder Morgan (KMP). Both pay a juicy dividend that is considered a return of principle and thus non-taxable (although it does alter cost-basis). However both have appreciated significantly this year. Canadian Royalty Trusts like Enerplus Resources (ERF)  are also an option.

You can also buy natural resource stocks like Rio Tinto (RTP) or BHP Biliton(BHP). China has been trying to buy multi-billion dollar stakes in companies like these and is currently unsuccesful. If you think that a day may come where Chinalco will be successful, you might want to get in before that happens.

IRSA International (IRS) is an Argentinian company that trades on the ADRs.  It owns farm land, resorts, hotels and shopping malls in prime locations.  After decades of “quantitative easing” (another word for printing money) wreaked havoc on their economy and standard of living, Argentinians don’t trust banks or central bankers. They trust gold and farmland. The way the US economy is going, we too may come to that same conclusion. Just to be safe, I bought some of the stock. On the other hand, you might be better off buying farmland or a ranch for hunting. I’m pretty sure, buying farmland is next on China’s list!

Disclosure: I own ERF, TYY,FXA, IRS, Everbank MarketSafe Japanese REIT CD, GDX and physical gold/silver.

Here’s a news clip from nearly 4 weeks ago, about how and why China is moving away from US denominated assets and buying tons of gold instead. It looks like the Chinese believe there’s a threat of inflation looming.

Now there’s absolutely no reason to mimic the investment strategies of one of the world’s largest creditors to the USA, but if you think they’re doing a good job of managing their economy you might want to give it some thought.

The market has been defying gravity this summer, with the S&P500 up 49% since March. But most of the appreciation has been in what I consider lower quality stocks. Many homebuilders with doubtful prospects have doubled from their recent lows, while stocks that are somewhat recession proof like McDonalds, Walmart, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble have bounced a mere 15-20%.

According to Bloomberg, “companies with the worst earnings led the 45 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index since it fell to a 12-year low five months ago”. It might be a good time to sell some of your winners that have exceptionally well and either wait for a pull-back, or if you’re trigger happy, buy solid investment-grade companies.

Given the current economic environment with the US Dollar likely to devalue against foreign currencies and the high probability of inflation, you want to invest in a company with exposure to foreign markets, a stable business model that is non-cyclical and a history of growing dividends. You also want to avoid luxury brands or businesses that sell expensive goods.

Here are a few of the companies that I would consider looking at, along with their dividend yields.

  • Verizon Communications (VZ): 5.87%
  • Johnson & Johnson (JNJ): 3.21%
  • Procter & Gamble (PG): 3.28%
  • Colgate-Palmolive (CL): 2.41%
  • Unilever (UL): 4.39%
  • Altria Group (MO): 7.10%
  • Philip Morris International (PM): 4.61%
  • McDonalds (MCD): 3.55%
  • Walmart (WMT): 2.51%
  • Enerplus Resources Fund (ERF): 9.56%

While I don’t own any of these yet (except ERF), I do own some ETFs that hedge against dollar devaluation and inflation:

  • CurrencyShares Australian Dollar Trust (FXA): 2.04%
  • Morgan Stanley Emerging Markets Domestic Debt Fund (EDD): 7.45%
  • Market Vectors TR Gold Miners (GDX): 1.90%

If you are going to buy currency ETFs or currencies you might want to also check out some of the risk-free currency CDs offered by Everbank. At the very least, definitely subscribe to their free newsletter, the Daily Pfennig. It’s quite informative and very interesting.

ETFconnect.com is a great site to find out more information about ETFs.  Having some exposure to foreign currency and gold miners isn’t a bad idea. I’ve been worrying about the effects of the Federal Reserve printing money like its going out of style and the CEO of Coeur d’Alene (CDE), a silver mining company that I happen to own, predicts that Silver will jump 29% by the end of the year because of this.

Demand from investors seeking a store of wealth accounts for more than half of silver’s 23 percent price jump this year before today, Wheeler said in an interview in New York. The metal will reach $18 an ounce with supplies little changed and demand buoyed by purchases from exchange-traded funds, he said.

“We have this crushing new debt and dollar weakness,” Wheeler said today. “The outlook for precious metals is very positive, and silver will be No. 1.”

The U.S. government has pledged $12.8 trillion, an amount that approaches U.S. gross domestic product, in a bid to stem the longest recession since the 1930s. The spending will erode the value of the dollar and boost the appeal of silver and gold as alternative assets, Wheeler said.

“There’s a lot of anxiety out there over this debt,” Wheeler said. “Around the world, there are a growing number of investors who want protection. They’re going to want silver as part of their portfolio.”

If you believe any of this, you might want to increase your exposure to silver miners like CDE, SSRI or SLW, although these don’t pay any dividends.

Disclosure: I own ERF, CDE, FXA, GDX, EDD, physical gold and silver.

Finally Warren Buffett said what I’ve been harping on about for two years. In his NYT op-ed piece titled “The Greenback Effect” he admited that the government is setting us up for massive inflation and destruction of the US Dollar.

This fiscal year, though, the deficit will rise to about 13 percent of G.D.P., more than twice the non-wartime record. In dollars, that equates to a staggering $1.8 trillion.

During this fiscal year, [our net debt] will increase more than one percentage point per month, climbing to about 56 percent of G.D.P. from 41 percent. Admittedly, other countries, like Japan and Italy, have far higher ratios and no one can know the precise level of net debt to G.D.P. at which the United States will lose its reputation for financial integrity. But a few more years like this one and we will find out.

The US debt is currently financed by foreigners. Foreigners who have excess Dollars because we used to import everything from them. Three years ago during the height of the housing boom, consumers refinanced their homes every year and bought stuff they couldn’t afford, most of it imported from these same foreign countries. Indeed, consumer spending was 75% of our GDP. But with the collapse in housing, what has happend to consumer spending at the retail level?

Monthly US Retail Sales Total YoY

Retail spending has dropped off a cliff. Click on the image to go to retailsails.com which is has a lot of indepth information about the dismal level of retail sales.

And with the decline in spending, imports decline and in turn the ability of foreigners to finance our deficit spending. As they decide they no longer want to buy US treasuries at 3.5% but instead would like to buy stock in undervalued companies, real estate or maybe gold, the Federal Reserve is going to have to work overtime to print all the money it needs to fund the government spending. Buffett projects that the Treasury will need to finance at least $900 billion this way!

With government expenditures now running 185 percent of receipts, truly major changes in both taxes and outlays will be required.

Legislators will correctly perceive that either raising taxes or cutting expenditures will threaten their re-election. To avoid this fate, they can opt for high rates of inflation, which never require a recorded vote and cannot be attributed to a specific action that any elected official takes. In fact, John Maynard Keynes long ago laid out a road map for political survival amid an economic disaster of just this sort: “By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens…. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”

I forget who said it but inflation is essentially taxation without representation!

Rampant inflation will cause the Dollar to lose its purchasing power against foreign currencies and precious metals like gold and silver which have been stores of value for 5,000 years. Unlike paper money, gold and silver are not subject to the human greed of rulers and maintain their value since their supply cannot be increased exponentially.

Buffett knows that the reputation of the Almighty Dollar is at risk.

Congress must end the rise in the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio and keep our growth in obligations in line with our growth in resources.

Unchecked carbon emissions will likely cause icebergs to melt. Unchecked greenback emissions will certainly cause the purchasing power of currency to melt. The dollar’s destiny lies with Congress.

Will Congress do the right thing or just do what’s easy and keeps them in office? Buffett is betting on the later and has slowly been converting his hoard of of billions of dollars in to foreign currencies like the Brazilian real.

At least I’m sure I did the right now when I started buying gold at $495/ounce!

Australian-silver-coins-complete-lunar-series-silver-coinsWith 1 ounce of gold selling for $955 and an ounce of silver selling for only $14.63,  gold is currently about 65 times the price of silver. Last year the ratio was only 50 times. This is significantly above the long-term historical ratio of gold being worth 16 times more than silver. Even in nature, silver is about 17 times more abundant than gold, and unlike gold the quantities above ground are constantly diminishing because of its industries use.

By these standards, silver is undervalued when compared to gold. Check out this Chinese news video advising investors to buy silver!

Going by the historical ratio of 16, silver should trade for nearly $60/ounce. Or conversely gold should sell for a mere $240/ounce. Although I have a gut feeling that one is more likely than the other, if you wanted to trade this without making a directional bet, you could enter a paired trade.

In this case, the pair trade would be to short gold and go long silver, however with all the manipulation that seems to be going on with regards to both of these commodities (see the last post on Fraud in Silver ETFs), there’s no guarantee when the ratios will converge to the historical averages. Unlike the gold-platinum ratio which was a great trade for futures traders in December 2008 (The price of platinum dropped below that of gold for a few weeks creating a great paired trade), this may not pan out for a long time.

Better to just buy silver coins or silver bars directly or Perth mint certificates.